Listening to Captivating Tales
Quiet and Curious
Our paths cross as I wait in the scorching sun for the gallery to open. An intriguing petite woman walks by gracefully. I observe how easily she totes several overflowing mesh bags filled with fruits and vegetables, most likely purchased from the nearby market - the same place I frequent. Usually, I shop early in the morning. However, today I plan to go after I view the exhibition.
A few paces after passing me, she stops abruptly and returns to ask if I would like to have a seat. I find her question puzzling since I do not see a place to sit anywhere near the building. Although it is past the scheduled time of opening, I explain that I do not mind waiting until someone arrives. She refuses to listen, insisting I follow her around the corner and up the steep stairs to a balcony overlooking a well-groomed courtyard. I notice a seemingly frail woman standing at the top of the steps. My assumption is wrong. Once we reach the landing, she immediately takes charge, grabbing the bags and hastily placing them on the counter by the sink. As if choreographed, she quickly throws a beautiful hand-embroidered tablecloth over a slightly rusted table, hoping I do not take note. With ease, she shoves the table and two somewhat tattered rattan bistro chairs next to the railing and aggressively gestures us to sit down. I obediently obey. Not only do I not know where I am, I have no idea who my host is. I remain quiet and curious.
In an attempt to break the silence and eager to develop a rapport, I introduce myself and thank her for inviting me into her home. I try not to stare as she glances sideways in an attempt to collect her thoughts before speaking. I welcome this opportunity to appreciate her well-groomed appearance that radiates a mystical pale pink aura.
Her salt and pepper pixie haircut suits her well. I imagine how liberating it would feel to undo my tightly wrapped bun, chop off my hair, and sport a natural look of curls. My daydreaming is suddenly interrupted as she interjects, "My name is Pimjai - friends and family call me Pim." Without pausing, she translates her name into English: "attached to the heart" and elaborates with details - "Pim means attached and Jai heart."
Speaking of family, a tall woman approaches our table, and I learn she is Pim's sister. She is much older and speaks very little English. Oddly, she does not sit with us. However, she brings over two tall glasses, places them on the table, and curtly mutters, "sweet tea."
After living in Atlanta, Georgia, for sixteen years and Thailand for six, I never acquired a taste for sweet tea. The two have two distinct flavors, and I like neither. To be polite, I reluctantly sip the tea while listening intently to Pim glide from one story to another. She speaks about her education in London and her extensive travels. I am a willing and curious hostage to her ongoing tales.
At some point, I learn that she and her sister have the same mother but different fathers. I have no idea why I am privy to this and other personal information shared and begin to feel like an intruder into their lives. I may be a tad uncomfortable, but enjoy Pim's company and invite her to join me to view the exhibition. She declines my invitation preferring to stay home. Secretly I am relieved to go alone. I met the artist at the opening of another show and am looking forward to having ample time to study his portrait drawings and paintings.
Amazingly, I still have time to see the exhibit and go to the market. Upon leaving, I thank Pim profusely for the lovely time we shared, and she encourages me to promise a return visit. I assure her I would love to continue traveling the world through her vivid and captivating tales. Grinning with pleasure, she stands and walks me to the bottom of the awkward staircase. I feel her piercing stare as I walk away.